MISSOULA — On Tuesday, March 23, two COVID-19 cases in Missoula County were identified as being infected with a variant of concern. The variant detected in these cases is the California variant, scientifically known as B.1.429. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this variant is 20% more transmissible and has a significant impact on some of the therapeutics doctors use to treat COVID-19 patients. It is unknown at this time if the infected persons traveled outside of Montana or contracted the variant locally, but variants have been identified in multiple Montana counties
More concerning for the Missoula community is the renewed rise in COVID-19 cases. Health Officer Ellen Leahy says COVID-19 cases are “moving in the wrong direction” with test positivity rates jumping 2% in the past week. Leahy notes that the COVID-19 incidence rate 7-day average per 100,000 people, an epidemiological measure used to determine how saturated a community is with COVID-19, is also rising. “After two months of declining cases, our incidence rate recently increased from 11 to 18,” says Leahy. According to the Harvard Global Health Institute, an incident rate at or above 25 can signal a tipping point for controlling spread.
As cases rise, so are hospitalizations. Missoula County is reporting more hospitalizations in younger populations. In the past week, of the eight county residents hospitalized, three of them are in their 20s, four are in their 60s and only one hospitalized patient is over 70.
Health Officials say now is not the time to let our guard down when it comes to fighting COVID- 19. Roughly 50% of Missoula County’s total population is currently eligible for vaccine appointments. Officials strongly urge the public to book appointments to get vaccinated against this pandemic virus. Continued diligence to slow the spread of COVID-19, such as social distancing, mask use, and handwashing also remain critical tools to stop spread while we work to get more of our community vaccinated.